The sounds coming from Professor of the College Carol Scheppard’s small farm in Mount Sidney, Va., are not what you’d expect. Scheppard’s rescue animals—a miniature horse, three goats, one sheep, two cats and a Great Pyrenees—often cock their heads curiously to listen whenever Scheppard demonstrates one of her passions in life: playing the bagpipes.
“My retirement gig will be playing for the animals from my porch,” she jokes.
While attending a local festival about a decade ago, Scheppard saw a performance by the Shenandoah Valley Pipe Band, and pipe major Kathy Boyer told the audience that she gave lessons. Scheppard immediately signed up.
A few years into playing, she joined the pipe band and has been performing at local Celtic festivals, nearby St. Patrick’s Day events, Caroling in the Caverns at Grand Caverns in Grottoes, Va., and much more.
As a solo bagpiper, she has had the privilege of playing at two special events. The first was during the biennial homecoming event held on Portsmouth Island, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Uninhabited since the 1970s, the island is now a national park, but many former residents and their descendants return every year for the celebration. Scheppard, whose grandfather was born on the island, played a sea shanty at one homecoming.
“The sound of the bagpipes is very special for people. After playing at the Portsmouth homecoming, so many people approached me—little children, teenagers, older folks—all with a story, a comment or connection of some sort,” Scheppard says. “It really is a privilege to be a part of such moments.”
She also had the opportunity to play “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes at the Dunker Church on the battlefield of Antietam. The Dunkers—a former term for what would become various Brethren denominations, including the Church of the Brethren—were worshipping in their church in 1862 as the cannons began to fire in the lead-up to the battle. As part of the battle reenactment, the local Church of the Brethren district sponsors a worship service on-site.
Scheppard says learning to play the bagpipes is the hardest thing she’s ever done.
“It’s humbling,” she says. “It takes a long time, and you never feel like you’re very good.”
But she said the close-knit bagpiping community is forgiving of newcomers’ struggles. She’s taken that experience into the classroom as she considers how her own students at Bridgewater learn.
“It’s an interesting way to think about how we learn and how to be patient with the learning process,” she says.
— By Olivia Shifflett